Capitol Alert

California lawmakers trade personal attacks during ride-for-hire debate

Tempers flared on the Assembly floor Thursday as Democratic members from adjoining districts attacked one another in a rare show of open antagonism.

The spectacle began when Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Los Angeles, brought up a bill allowing ride-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft to request the criminal history of its drivers from the California Department of Justice.

But Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, said Nazarian had reneged on a promise to amend the bill so companies that don’t participate wouldn’t face legal liability. Gatto assailed Nazarian for going back on his word, saying it was the first time he had criticized a fellow Democrat’s bill on the Assembly floor.

Multiple Republicans echoed the criticism. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said, “We were promised there would be amendments to deal with the concerns that we’ve raised here today, and none of those concerns have been met.”

When it was Nazarian’s turn to respond, he denied having made any such commitment and bemoaned the experience of having “your reputation...sullied in front of your colleagues.”

Then he directed a barb at Gatto, who is forced out of office by term limits at the end of this year.

“It’s okay,” Nazarian said. “Some of our careers are coming to a short end soon.”

The remark drew disbelieving murmurs and a rebuke from leadership. But the fracas was not over: Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, attacked the bill as “disingenuous” and a “veiled” gift to ride companies.

“This is a bill that is meant to look like it’s doing something good, but it’s empty,” Hernandez said. “It’s an empty bill.” It ultimately died on a 32-25 vote.

Besides Thursday’s bill, Gatto and Nazarian are on opposite sides of an ugly race to succeed Gatto in Los Angeles County’s 43rd Assembly District. Gatto backs Glendale Councilwoman Laura Friedman while Nazarian supports Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert